Dark Is the Way: An Interview with Stephen Christian of Anberlin

"In song, I have sung every failure I have partaken in and every accomplishment I have succeeded at – there is no line."

It’s not an overstatement to say that Anberlin’s sixth proper full length, Vital, was one of the most criminally underrated rock records of 2012. The Florida rockers have developed a penchant for crafting alt-rock records that challenge the listener while maintaining a distinct accessibility, and Vital may very well be the band’s defining work. Chock-full of urgent guitar riffs and burning calls for hope amidst desperation, the album may be the band’s heaviest to date – both in terms of sound and content.

What is even more impressive than Anberlin’s ability to capture fiery emotion on tape is the band’s knack for stripping it all down in their acoustic live performances. Last spring, the band took their first official acoustic trek, showcasing a different side of a band already known for its diverse talents. Now, a mere year later, the band is treating any cities that missed out on last year’s jaunt with a new slew of acoustic dates.

PopMatters will be providing coverage of the tour when it makes its stop in Indianapolis, but before then, we were given the chance to chat with lead singer Stephen Christian about the tour, Vital, and what he feels is the band’s biggest accomplishment to date.

* * *

What brought about the decision to do another acoustic tour so soon after last year’s trek?

The last one we did was on the East Coast. We had an amazing time and knew in the back of our minds that we wanted to do it again someday. Well, someday arrived and we headed west. So far it is as good as the last one, so perhaps someday we will take this overseas.

What changes have you made for this tour as opposed to last year’s?

Since then, Vital has blown up, so we definitely play more off of the new record as opposed to last tour. Also, we play different covers and have chosen a few new b-sides. Overall it’s a different show, except for the lights and our good looks.

What’s the biggest difference between playing larger venues and smaller, more intimate shows like you’ll be doing on this tour?

They both have their advantages. I love the connection that a small venue brings, but the larger shows always give me more adrenaline. I think there are benefits to both.

I know you have connections with cities like Seattle, New Orleans, and several in Florida – is there a particular city you get most excited to visit during a tour, or that you feel most at home in?

Besides those three, I think I really feel at home in Boulder, Sydney, and Chicago.

Vital was deemed by many critics and fans as a career defining record. What was the biggest change or growth you felt as a songwriter when creating that album?

I decided to give up on negativity and looking at the failures of others. If there is a negative connotation in any of my lyrics from here on out, it is about myself. I cannot control the behaviors of others; I cannot carry the burden of pessimism. What I can do is strive to live better, to think longer, and to absorb what this world has for me. I am done with viewing love as purely emotional, friends as open books, and observed failures as a source to draw inspiration from.

Having a few albums under your belt on a major label, what have you found to be the biggest gains and biggest drawbacks in regards to the growth of your band?

The biggest gain is the clout we receive when our band name is preceded by the words "Universal recording artists." The negative is the fact that we are not Taylor Swift, nor do we sell the amount of records that she does, and no, we will not change our sound to something more like Maroon 5. Therefore we get overlooked by a few of the higher-ups at our label. Saying that, I would rather be a small fish in a big pond with the opportunity to grow than the other way around.

As a songwriter who includes a passion for social awareness and justice in your music, along with your own personal experiences and struggles, where do you draw the line between those two things during your writing process – or is there a line at all?

There is no line in lyrics – I am my writing. There is literally nothing I have held back from the songs I have written. If you pieced everything I have ever put my hand to together, you would get the most complete autobiography. In song, I have sung every failure I have partaken in and every accomplishment I have succeeded at – there is no line.

Now that you’ve developed a strong back catalog of albums that feature a progression of sounds and ideas, is there certain material that you get excited to revisit in a live setting more than others?

I would love to explore Blueprints [for the Black Market] more, but the other guys seem to have moved on. Christian wasn't a part of that writing process, so it makes it difficult for him to connect with some of those songs, understandably. If I had my way, we would do “Glass to the Arson” every night. That and “Dance, Dance [Christa Päffgen]”.

Anberlin is a band that’s experienced mainstream success and also critical success with albums like Cities or Vital – is there a particular accomplishment that stands out to you the most or that fuels your vision of the future of the band?

The biggest accomplishment to date is the day we decided to join a band and get into a white van and leave out on tour. Sure, it took us years and years to make any headway, but the mere fact we were willing to give everything up to follow our passion is all the success I have ever desired from this band. If it ended today, that would still be the greatest pinnacle we have achieved to date.

What’s the most important thing you want people to take away from Anberlin’s music.

Dark is the Way, Light is a Place. That sums up the message I want to say. Not the record, the actual words. When life feels like it is closing in, know that there is always hope.

Tickets for Anberlin's acoustic tour are on sale now

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

Keep reading... Show less

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less

Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

In a staid city like Washington, D.C., too many concert programs still stick to the basics. An endless litany of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky concerti clog the schedules and parades of overeager virtuosi seem unwilling to vary their repertoire for blasé D.C. concertgoers. But occasionally you encounter a concert that refreshes your perspective of the familiar. The works presented at The Kennedy Center on 25 October 2017 might be stalwarts of 20th century repertoire, but guest conductor Antonio Pappano, leading the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, reminded us how galvanizing the canonical can still be. Though grandiose executions of Respighi's The Fountains of Rome and The Pines of Rome were the main event, the sold-out crowd gathered to see Martha Argerich perform one of her showpieces, Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto. Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.